EAST LANSING, Mich. – Bill O’Reilly wants answers.
He wants to know why the Michigan Education Association teachers union is fighting for a special buyout severance for a teacher convicted of raping a student.
So O’Reilly sent O’Reilly Factor correspondent Jesse Watters to confront Michigan Education Association President Steven Cook at the union’s East Lansing headquarters last week.
“You had a teacher who repeatedly raped one of his own students and you’re trying to get him $10,000?” Watters asked Cook.
“I don’t have any comment,” Cook said.
“You know you are hurting the student and his family even more, don’t you care?” Watters said.
“No comment,” Cook said.
“You have a kid whose life was destroyed by a teacher. How is that acceptable?” Watters pressed as he followed Cook into an elevator.
“You guys have got to go, I’m sorry, this is private property. You have to leave,” Cook said.
Before being escorted out of the building, Watters gave Cook a piece of his mind.
“Can I be perfectly honest with you,” Watters said. “You are an absolute disgrace.”
The Michigan Education Association, through its local union, recently filed a grievance on behalf of Neal Erickson, a former middle school math teacher in the West Branch-Rose City school district who repeatedly raped a teenage male student over a period of several years.
Erickson was convicted and sentenced to up to 30 years in prison last summer, but the MEA is arguing he deserves a special severance buyout promised to teachers who left the district during the previous school year.
The case caused a firestorm in the community when several teachers from West Branch-Rose City schools submitted letters of support for Erickson at his sentencing, pleading for a reduced sentence. A school board member also sat with the Erickson family during his sentencing.
The victims, and much of the community, were outraged by the teachers’ and board member’s actions and demanded the school district terminate the letter writers. They also demanded that the board member, Mike Eagan, resign from office, and mounted a recall campaign when he refused.
School board members held emotional public hearings regarding the letter-writing teachers, but ultimately voted to retain the teachers out of fear of First Amendment lawsuits.
John and Lori Janczewski, the victim’s parents, were flabbergasted in December, when they first heard of the MEA’s attempt to secure the $10,000 bonus for Erickson.
“It’s completely ludicrous!” Janczewski told EAGnews. “Are they nuts in the head? How can the union file a grievance and back a child molester?”
The Janczewskis also appeared on O’Reilly Factor to share their disgust, at which time O’Reilly vowed to go after the MEA.
The victim, now a 21-year-old, talked to Watters over the telephone for the recent O’Reilly Factor segment, the first time he’s spoken publicly since the truth came out.
“The educational system is supposed to support their students and their well-being, and the fact that the MEA is backing a child molester and a criminal is absolutely disgusting,” the victim told Watters. “Nobody will ever know what this man did to me emotionally, physically, mentally.”
“The main job of Mr. Cook is to look out for the well-being of the school system. How can he do that when he supports a child molester?” the victim said.
The young man explained the torment he endured from his former teacher, and shed light on how Erickson manipulated him.
“He molded my mind into me thinking things I had no control over.
“I had significant interest in technological activities our school did not offer, so I took it upon myself to learn these interests and he was very receptive of that and helped me with that. However things got out of hand when he started going over the line,” the victim told Watters.
“He tried to psychologically take advantage of me and he emotionally took advantage of me. He often threatened to fail me in my classes,” he continued. “At one point he told me that if I told anyone he would come to my house and make sure I regret it. He used alcohol to get me drunk and he had me under his arm ever since.”
The victim said he just wants the episode to be over.
“I just wish that there could be closure to this and these individuals supporting Neal can see that there’s no such thing as consensual at 13-years-old,” he said.
The MEA later issued a statement asserting that the union must pursue contractual matters for all members, even convicted rapists.